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Lawsuit Considered Among Tactics to Enact District Voting

| City Council, News | December 13, 2018

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Expect some activity regarding city council district voting early next year.

Two former city council candidates, Brett Haddock and Logan Smith, have told the Gazette they are aware of people who are interested in suing the city to force a move to district voting. Haddock added that he is also searching for the right attorney to bring the suit and expects action in late January or early February.

Neither divulged names of the interested parties, although Smith acknowledged he knows “Latino residents” are involved. It’s also not known if Haddock and Smith are talking to the same parties.

A third candidate, Diane Trautman, originally thought she had someone in mind but told the Gazette that she was no longer sure her contact would go anywhere.

“Diane, Logan and I and Mark White and Ken Dean have discussed it at length, but we haven’t talked about it in the last couple of weeks,” Haddock said.

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Dean said he is not involved at this point. Trautman said she isn’t in a position to get involved but would welcome the change. White texted that he will continue to advocate for district voting.

Haddock said he has been approached and is determining a plan of attack. The idea, he said, is to avoid a lawsuit to save the city from paying a large settlement to attorneys.

“I’m hoping we can convince the council to do something on its own,” Haddock said. “I’m an eternal optimist, but with their track record, my hope is curtailed somewhat.”

In fact, the city, as part of its 2019 legislative platform, opposes “legislation that seeks to impose district-based voting in municipal elections or otherwise mandates specific actions for municipalities to implement when challenged regarding compliance with the California Voting Rights Act.”

Santa Clarita is one of the largest cities that has not moved to district voting, even though attempts have been made. Most famous was the lawsuit the city settled in 2014 after two Latino plaintiffs claimed they and their fellow Latinos’ votes were diluted under the CVRA. The CVRA, which expands on the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, has been widely used to compel cities, school districts, water boards and the like to move to district voting. But the city didn’t, instead moving the election to November from April and going to cumulative voting, which a judge threw out.

“They’re not interested in taking a new approach,” Trautman said of the current councilmembers.

Among the members, Bill Miranda said a few months ago he would be OK with discussing the matter provided a large enough public sample voices a desire.

“Our citizens need to let their voices be heard,” Miranda said in a text.

Cameron Smyth also said he is willing to discuss it, but “policy by way of legal threat is not a great way to develop public policy.”

Marsha McLean, when first contacted Tuesday, called the notion “ridiculous” and said a lawsuit or threat of one is “just people trying to change something that works.”

On Wednesday, she read the following statement to the Gazette: “Through my involvement with the League of California Cities, I’ve seen it again and again where districts bring more politics to the table and unintended consequences. For instance, any three council members when fighting over which district gets funding for a project, can form a political bloc and the other two districts can be continuously left out. The residents in those districts would have no power or recourse because they can only vote in their own district, which can create a perpetual deficit of projects for them.”

Bob Kellar said he doesn’t want a lawsuit and always tries to ask, “What is the most responsible thing we can do for our citizens? If I saw a circumstance where I thought the city of Santa Clarita was not being properly governed, I would support this.”

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About Lee Barnathan

Lee Barnathan has been a writer and editor since 1990. His articles have been published in newspapers, magazines and online. His new book "If You Experience Death, Please Call and Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language," a humorous look at the ways people misuse English, is available on Amazon or at his website, www.leebarnathan.com. He is hired by people all over the country to help them refine the message or story they wish to share with their target audience or demographic.

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